Lead, and the Children of Flint

Toddler-Playing-With-A-Chair-01In April of 2014 politicians in Flint, Michigan changed the city’s water supply from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River, in order to save money. The water from the Flint River was more acidic and had more salt and chlorine in it, and it corroded the aging lead pipes through which it flowed, allowing lead into the water and poisoning the inhabitants of Flint.

The EPA allows 15 ppm (parts per million) of lead in drinking water. Water from homes in Flint tested as high as 13.2 thousand ppm. Lead levels in children’s blood doubled, then doubled again.

Nontombi Naomi Tutu said we “needed the people of Flint to remind the people of this country what happens when political expediency, when financial concerns, overshadow justice and humanity.”

Why do we worry about Lead?

Lead is a soft gray heavy metal that functions in our bodies as a neurotoxin–it poisons nerves. Acute lead poisoning causes headaches, stomach pain, clumsiness, agitation or drowsiness, convulsions and death.

Chronic lead poisoning is more insidious. Lead is most harmful to infants, children and pregnant woman, because it damages developing nerves. Kids who are poorly nourished will be more affected because deficiencies in iron, calcium and zinc increase their body’s absorption of lead. Babies are more at risk because they live closer to floors and surfaces and everything goes into their mouths. Exposed children:

  • can lose cognitive function and develop speech and reading problems.
  • can be unable to focus and organize their thoughts, and exhibit behavior problems.
  • have a higher school dropout rate, problems with aggression, and a higher rate of delinquency.
  • can have damage to their hearing.
  • will have problems growing because lead messes with their ability to use Vitamin D and iron.
  • become anemic, which leaves them less able to transport oxygen around their bodies.
  • can cause damage to their kidneys, giving them lifelong problems with hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Where is lead found?

When I was a kid we wrote with lead pencils and had lead in our gasoline!

Nowadays, lead is used in some industries, found in deteriorating lead paint in old houses, and leached out of old lead water pipes and pipes with lead solder. We also occasionally run into it in old toys, old Christmas decorations, and jewelry, and in toys, ceramics and cans imported from other countries. Cosmetics such as surma and kohl can have lead, as can some home remedies and dietary supplements. A few years ago there were crayons with lead in them. The manufacturer said, “Kids weren’t supposed to eat them!”

Ideally, we prevent lead poisoning.

  • If you work in an industry that uses lead, take off your shoes when you enter your home.
  • Don’t give your kids old toys and jewelry to chew on.
  • If you have lead pipes in your home, run the water for 30 seconds before you use any of it to drink or cook, because lead will gradually leach from the pipes it is sitting in. Never drink or cook with water run hot from the tap–hot water leaches out more lead.
  • If you live in an old house, clean up peeling paint and household dust with a wet mop.
  • Check for lead paint before any home renovations.
  • If you have well water, test it for lead. Most well filters do remove lead.
  • Give your child a nutritious diet to avoid deficiencies in iron, calcium, and zinc.

Treatment for Lead Poisoning:

Pediatricians generally check children’s lead levels at 12 months and sometimes 2 years, and any time there is concern.

Treatment of lead poisoning varies with how high the level is.

Between 5 and 45 mcg/dl, treatment involves finding and eliminating the source and optimizing the child’s nutrition. Levels as low as 5 mcg/dl have been shown to have lasting effects on children, but chelation therapy at these levels has not been proven to have any effect on kids’ cognitive ability or behavior.

Kids with levels over 45 mcg/dl need to be treated with chelating agents, which can be quite dangerous. Chelators bind the metal in the blood and improve its excretion into urine and stool. Unfortunately chelators also bind minerals that your child’s body needs for normal growth and development. Also, kids can be allergic to the chelators, and the medicine can damage their liver or kidneys.

Far better to prevent the exposure.

I do not have words for how horribly the people of Flint were betrayed by their elected officials.

Some resources if you have concerns:

  • EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline  800-426-4791
  • Poison Control 800-222-1222
  • Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit Network (PEHSU) 888-347-2632

 

Domesticated Momster

Reading Milestones

ROARlogo2-01This week’s blog comes curtesy of the Reach out and Read program.

Reading together is the single most important thing you can do to develop language skills and learning ability in your children, especially between the ages of six months and five years. Nothing will do more to prepare kids to excel in school: reading increases their vocabulary, their understanding of phonics, familiarity with the printed word, storytelling ability, and comprehension. Snuggling up and reading with your children will also help them feel loved and secure; do this at bedtime and it will help them sleep.

All this is before we get to the actual contents of the books!

For tricks on how to read to tiny people, check out my blog on Growing Brains.

Read, love reading, and encourage your children to love reading and their world will open up with possibilities.

The Reach out and Read people have come up with a very neat chart of reading milestones by age, from six months to five years. I thought I should share. Just click on it to make it bigger:

Reading Milestones

Domesticated Momster

Growing Brains: Reading as the Anti-Zombie

ROARlogo2-01In The Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams said, “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” They can, in particular, change your child’s world.

I am a book pusher. In my office we force free books on babies and children at every visit, compliments of the Reach out and Read program. They generally would prefer lollypops, but they put up with it.

With each book they get nagged about reading. We do this because a child’s brain develops most rapidly between 6 months and 3 years, and reading aloud stimulates the parts of the brain in which language skills reside. This is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.

The problem is that only 48% of families read to their children every day; 1 in 6 read to their children only 3 days a week. One third of children enter kindergarten lacking basic language skills. These kids are typically 12-14 months behind; 88% will never catch up. These kids start the uphill journey of life at a tremendous disadvantage.

The solution is reading aloud. Reading aloud is the single most important thing a parent can do to prepare their child for school and beyond. Reading aloud develops literacy skills, including:

  • Vocabulary. The number of words with which children enter kindergarten directly predicts their later success.
  • Phonics. There is no other way to learn how words sound than by hearing them spoken.
  • Familiarity with the printed word. Opening a book should feel comfortable, warm, and welcoming, not intimidating.
  • Storytelling ability. There is no better way to stimulate your child’s imagination than allowing them to create their own story.
  • Comprehension. Children learn the actual meaning of the words by hearing them used.

Knowledge is power, and it is waiting to be gathered from the words in books. Love of reading is also waiting in those words, needing only to be nurtured by time shared reading. That love will become a mighty tool and support throughout their lives.

There are tricks to doing it better:

  • Ask questions. The traditional questions are what-when-why-where-how? What is the creature in that tree? Why is Clifford so big? Where did that mouse go? Get involved in the book.
  • Describe the book. Talk about the pictures: That dog is bigger than the house! Look how tall that beanstalk grew! Count objects, if there are several: One-two-three apples! Notice the actual letters: Look, there is an “N” – that’s the first letter in your name! Notice and point out colors and shapes.
  • Use funny voices: nothing will entertain your child like you sounding like a duck.
  • Emphasize rhymes; sing the words when you can. Kids love to imitate crazy words. Generations of people can say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. What were the chances?  Is your Mama a Llama? There is a reason “One, two, buckle my shoe” is around long after the demise of shoe buckles. It rhymes, and you can sing it.
  • Relate the book to your own life. If you read “Clifford and the big storm,” talk about that storm you had last week.
  • Have fun. Your munchkin will see your happiness, and their joy in reading will grow.
  • Reward reading. Kids will do what they are rewarded for doing. If reading brings with it hugs, smiles, and time with mom or dad, they will want to do it again.

Bring reading into the rest of your life. Notice signs beside the road; mention the movie marque for the show they want to see. Visit libraries, museums, and parks and talk about what you see. Listen to music, and talk about the lyrics. When your child shows you the picture he or she drew, invite them to tell you a story about it. Where is that dinosaur going? Is he all alone? Show them how you use words through the day, writing your lists, or paying your bills.

Talk about the words themselves:

  • Some words can sound the same, but have totally different meanings. You can bake cookies with flour, or pick a flower off a bush; Grandma’s hip might creak, but it’s not the same as the creek you fish in.
  • Different words can mean the same thing. That flower can also be called a blossom, if you are in the mood.
  • The exact same word can have very different meanings. A dog’s bark is very different than the bark on a tree, as a computer mouse is different than a live one.
  • Words can end the same, and rhyme! That mama llama is an enduring favorite.

Make reading a habit. Children’s brains are designed to form habits. Habits and routine are security to them; use this to your advantage. A habit of snuggling up to read every night before bed will make bedtime a much more enjoyable experience. Happy children sleep better. If you make a habit of reading to your child for 15 minutes each day, by the time they enter kindergarten you will have read to them for a whopping 500 hours. No wonder it makes such a difference!

Parents are a child’s first and best teachers. They are the most important people in their child’s universe. If a parent thinks that reading matters, then it does matter. If they think that reading is enjoyable, then it is.

With a routine of reading, a child will enter kindergarten with a larger vocabulary, a habit of reading and learning, and a habit of being interested. They will know that interest is always rewarded. They will be ready to excel.

Reading can open up the world for children. Anything they find interesting, they can explore. They can discover things they otherwise might never have known existed. They can search for the answer to any question, and be inspired to ask new ones of their own.

Reading lights up the dark corners of prejudice and bigotry, and will help your child become a better person. With reading, he or she can find their own magic, unlimited by their immediate surroundings. To paraphrase Robin Williams in Dead Poets: “… the powerful play goes on, and your child may contribute a verse. What will their verse be?”